After dominating with offense in their first six games, the Lakers reminded everyone (probably including themselves) that they earned back to back titles with their defense and that is how they will earn a third. In their first true challenge this season (or so many thought), the home team greeted the 5-2 Portland Trailblazers with an early knockout from which the young team never recovered. The Lakers led by 15 after one quarter, 22 after two quarters, and led by as many as 29 by the fourth quarter until the buzzer sounded and a 25 point beatdown had been recorded.
In his post-game locker interview, Matt Barnes mentioned that he and Ron Artest (11 points on 5-8), schemed to work together to stop the leading scorer on every opposing team.
“If you cut the head off the snake,” Barnes said, “it’s hard to win.”
At the top of the Lakers’ list of chores tonight was to contain the Blazers’ head honcho, Brandon Roy. Charged with the bulk of the responsibility was Artest, but it would take every Laker on the floor to stop such a crafty scorer. Roy had just four points in each of the game halves, going 1-6 for the night. Reported to be experiencing some pain in his back and knee, Roy was limited even without the Laker defense smothering him, but it shows that he remains, even with veteran Andre Miller taking on the scoring load, the head of Portland’s snake.
Kobe Bryant, who had a less than pedestrian night by Mamba standards (12 points on 3-11, two rebounds, one assists), said that the strength of this Lakers team is that their opponents are forced to choose which player to contain. If and when the other team chooses the recipient of their defensive attention, the Lakers have other options. In other words, these defending Champs have more than just the mamba; they are a multi-headed serpent.
Tonight, the Blazers may have chosen to put their defensive efforts on Bryant, and it worked, but they had nothing for Lamar Odom, who earned yet another double-double. He had 21 points on 10-15, including one from downtown as the shot clock began to run out early in the fourth quarter. For the season thusfar, Odom is shooting 63% from the field and 67% from three. As if Mr. Versatility’s scoring efficiency wasn’t already a problem for Portland, he had to be hungry at the glass as well, collecting 14 boards.
The Blazers had nothing for Pau Gasol either, who earned another triple-double to add to his endless list of accomplishments. With still three minutes left in the third quarter, Gasol assisted on an Artest layup, completing his trip-dub stat line – 18 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. Gasol shot 9-13, 69% and as usual, killed his opponent through his smorgasbord of moves – right-handed hook, left-handed hook, offensive rebound then putback. And then, to help him show off even more, Steve Blake caught a steal, ran freely to the Lakers hoop, caught his teammate out of the corner of his eye, tossed the ball against the backboard, Gasol caught it with both hands and then rammed it into the basket. +27 on the night – enough said.
The Lakers were too much for Portland to handle. The visitors were outrebounded 49-25, out-assisted 33-21, and out-benched 45-42. Every Laker starter scored in double figures, including two Renegades off the pine with Shannon Brown (15 points on 6-12) continuing his confident shooting and Matt Barnes (13 points on 6-7, six rebounds, four assists) continuing with his hustle.
If this is just the beginning of dominating performances to come for the Lakers, no other monsters in the league are safe; not even that green-eyed beast from Boston or that three-headed creature in Miami.
Pre-game Thoughts: THIS should be the Lakers’ first real challenge thusfar.
Half-time Thoughts: 36-58 – There’s no way else to describe the Lakers’ play so far but DOMINANT. Their defense is solid (Portland’s shooting just 36%!) and they’re shooting 51%. Pau Gasol is leading the way with 14 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. Prepare for a triple double from our Spaniard.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: 15 turnovers maybe? Nah, compared to the 21 they had earlier this season, 15 isn’t so bad.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Mr. Consistency, Pau Gasol, overworked due to Andrew Bynum’s absence, killed Portland with every part of his game – 20 points on 9-13, 14 rebounds, 10 assists, three steals and ZERO turnovers. The absence of his name in MVP conversations is beyond ignorance.